Activist and Professor Angela Davis is Our Vegan Hero!

February 19, 2014

We love Angela Davis. And since she came out and shared that she is a vegan, we love her just a little bit more.

Angela Davis has had an incredible life so far, as an activist, civil rights leader, feminist, radical, Communist, member of Black Panther Party, Vice Presidential candidate, and, as we in Santa Cruz know her best, as one of the most fiery and intelligent professors at UC Santa Cruz in recent memory. Now we can add vegan to that jaw-dropping list.

Her veganism and views on food politics surprisingly went unnoticed until a Counterpunch article on January 24th that referenced two talks Professor Davis gave in February and March 2012. This oversight is surprising as Angela Davis’ life has been under a microscope since the 60’s.

For her, veganism goes hand and hand with economic justice and social change. During the talk “On Revolution: A Conversation Between Grace Lee Boggs and Angela Davis” on March 2nd 2012, Davis acknowledges “I usually don’t mention that I’m vegan but that has evolved… I think it’s the right moment to talk about it because it is part of a revolutionary perspective–how can we not only discover more compassionate relations with human beings but how can we develop compassionate relations with the other creatures with whom we share this planet and that would mean challenging the whole capitalist industrial form of food production.”

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A few weeks before, in February 2012 at a Social Justice Teach-In at UC Davis, Angela Davis put everything in perspective: “the food we eat masks so much cruelty. The fact that we can sit down and eat a piece of chicken without thinking about the horrendous conditions under which chickens are industrially bred in this country is a sign of the dangers of capitalism, how capitalism has colonized our minds. The fact that we look no further than the commodity itself, the fact that we refuse to understand the relationships that underlie the commodities that we use on a daily basis. And so food is like that.”

Even before we knew she was a vegan, Professor Davis was an inspiration to the whole Saturn team. Over the years, her struggle for social change has put her up against some very powerful adversaries, but she has never backed down.

First, in the late 60’s, then Governor Ronald Reagan did not like her political views or outspokenness so he repeatedly (and eventually successfully) attempted to force her out of her position as an assistant professor at UCLA. At the time, Angela Davis was active in the Black Power movement and was one of the leading female voices of the Black Panther Party, which was based in Oakland. Soon after, in a classic case of politically motivated prosecution, she was tried and then acquitted of kidnapping and murder. In the lead up to that famous trial (which John Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote a song in support of Angela), she was a fugitive and on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted List. Talk about one kickass professor! After all this heat from the government, it didn’t stop her from running for Vice President twice on the Communist Party ticket and getting 81,319 votes in 1980 and 1984.

Former California Governor Ronald Reagan once vowed that Angela Davis would never again teach in the University of California system. In 1991, she found a home as a Distinguished Professor Emerita in the History of Consciousness and Feminist Studies Departments at the University of California, Santa Cruz. In 1994, she received the distinguished honor of an appointment to the University of California Presidential Chair in African American and Feminist Studies.

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Professor Davis has always been a great role model and mentor to young activists-in-training (many of whom took her classes at UC Santa Cruz) and she related that back to food: I’m really interested in the work you’re doing around food.  Because I think that that’s the next major arena of struggle.  I’m sometimes really disappointed that many of us can assume that we are these radical activists but we don’t know how to reflect on the food we put in our own bodies.

You may wonder what veganism has to do with her life’s work battling injustice between human beings. Davis summed up the relationship: “I think there is a connection between…the way we treat animals and the way we treat people who are at the bottom of the hierarchy.” 

Over five decades, she fought for the powerless, from prisoners to African Americans to women to workers. She even fought for students on the UC Santa Cruz campus. No cause was too large or too small. She has a big heart to go along with her beautiful brain. Is it any surprise that she is a vegan?